Sexual Assault Victim’s Father in Hathras Killed: Is This the Price Women Pay for Seeking Justice?

Social Commentary

Sexual Assault Victim’s Father in Hathras Killed: Is This the Price Women Pay for Seeking Justice?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In 2018, a man was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. On Monday, while the accused, identified as Gaurav Sharma, was out on bail, he got in a tussle with the survivor’s family. The family had complained of harassment by the perpetrator in the past as well but received no aid from the police. This tussle resulted in Sharma assembling his aides and shooting at the woman’s father. He died on the way to the hospital.

Videos shot by local journalists show the woman weeping outside a police station, demanding justice. “Please give me justice… please give me justice. First, he molested me and now he has shot my father,” she can be heard saying. Sharma had reportedly been threatening the family to withdraw the case.

The killing is yet another reminder that the trauma for sexual assault victims continues much after the violation. While the woman and her family have been fighting continued threats, the rape accused spent only a month in jail and has been out on bail since.

It’s only now, after the murder, that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has demanded the invocation of the National Security Act to withhold all accused men. However, this action is too little too late. The dismissal of the accused within one month of imprisonment proves that the state’s encouragement of women to report cases of sexual harassment is a farce. In a country where a rape case takes place every 15 minutes, it is incumbent upon authorities to ensure measures that protect women are strictly adhered to. But what happens too often, as we have seen in the case in Hathras, is that once a survivor reports the crime she exposes herself to more danger. Why does the demand for justice have to come at the price of the safety of the woman or her family?

Every single day women are penalised in violent ways simply for existing.

And what is the government doing to protect the victims? The answer is zilch. In spite of laws that demand that victims have protection from intimidation and harassment, and be provided restitution from a convicted offender, crimes against women are not taken seriously. Every few years, the title of being the “rape capital” of the country is bestowed upon a new state.

The survivors are just as vulnerable to harassment before reporting the case as they are after, if not more so. In the past when the Delhi government did endeavour to provide witness and/or victim protection, the lack of funds and infrastructure (like CCTV surveillance) led this to remain largely incompetent. Furthermore, protection is only provided to the victim should they demand it. This coupled with the time that elapses between an FIR reporting and the mise-en-action gives leeway to perpetrators to intimidate or physically attack the victims. Women and young girls are constantly at risk especially if the accused hails from an influential background or if the victims already belong to marginalised backgrounds.

A similar attempt to silence the survivor has taken place in the past as well. In the 2017 Unnao rape case, a 19-year-old woman had filed a rape report against MLA Kuldeep Singh for sexually assaulting her. In 2019, while she was travelling with her two aunts and lawyer by road, their car met with an accident. Her aunts did not survive whereas she and her lawyer were critically injured.

Every single day women are penalised in violent ways simply for existing. Governments and their protective arm, ie, the police have failed to provide adequate protection to survivors year after year. How are women then supposed to report crimes when they ultimately suffer because of it?

It’s sad but sometimes rapists often get away and it is the victims who continue to suffer.